\ ˈshelf \
plural shelves\ˈshelvz \

Definition of shelf 

1a : a thin flat usually long and narrow piece of material (such as wood) fastened horizontally (as on a wall) at a distance from the floor to hold objects

b : one of several similar pieces in a closet, bookcase, or similar structure

c : the contents of a shelf the author of a shelf of best sellers

2 : something resembling a shelf in form or position: such as

a : a sandbank or ledge of rocks usually partially submerged

b : a flat projecting layer of rock

c : the submerged gradually sloping border of a continent or island : continental shelf

off the shelf

: available from stock : not made to order off the shelf equipment

on the shelf

: in a state of inactivity or uselessness

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Other words from shelf

shelfful \ˈshelf-ˌfu̇l \ noun
shelflike \ˈshelf-ˌlīk \ adjective

Examples of shelf in a Sentence

Put the vase on the shelf. the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet Will you get that book down off the shelf? We don't have much shelf space.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The hope is to eventually get the beer on grocery store shelves in the country. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "This Beer Was Developed For Breast Cancer Patients," 9 July 2018 Young men were seen stripping merchandise from shelves in some supermarkets that were charred from the protests. Washington Post, "World Digest: July 8, 2018," 8 July 2018 And furred and feathered costumes spilling off the shelves in quirky shops and boutiques. Harriot Manley,, "Burning Man comes and goes, but the experience is year-round in Reno," 28 June 2018 Arvi’s art is stored on shelves, in binders, in the basement. Kirk Johnson, New York Times, "He Couldn’t Refuse a Deathbed Plea. Now He’s Got 10,000 Pieces of Art.," 24 June 2018 The store was a hodgepodge of tall shelves in narrow aisles, perfect for my cautious approach. Longreads, "Trying to Kill the Want," 20 June 2018 There isn’t much left on the shelves in the free-agent market. Kent Somers, azcentral, "Cardinals rookie QB Josh Rosen impressive but Sam Bradford still the favorite to start season," 5 June 2018 This isn't software that will sit on a shelf in a store for someone to buy; it's custom applications to assist with some business process or other. Peter Bright, Ars Technica, "From Win32 to Cocoa: A Windows user’s would-be conversion to Mac OS, part II," 27 May 2018 Beds were in place, linens on the shelves, food in the pantry, wine in the cellar. Sheryl Julian,, "From ruin to castle in rural Spain (and you can eat like royalty, too)," 23 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'shelf.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of shelf

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for shelf

Middle English, probably from Old English scylfe; akin to Old Norse hlīthskjalf Odin's seat

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Statistics for shelf

Last Updated

21 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for shelf

The first known use of shelf was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for shelf



English Language Learners Definition of shelf

: a flat board which is attached to a wall, frame, etc., and on which objects can be placed

geology : a flat area of rock, sand, etc., especially underwater


\ ˈshelf \
plural shelves\ˈshelvz \

Kids Definition of shelf

1 : a flat piece (as of wood or metal) set above a floor (as on a wall or in a bookcase) to hold things

2 : a flat area (as of rock)

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Comments on shelf

What made you want to look up shelf? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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